LGBT Synagogues

By d’varim • March 24, 2008

This article from The Forward brings up some interesting points. It addresses the existence of LGBT congregations and whether they are still necessary in our ever more inclusive society.

These are just my initial reactions: I can understand why many queer and questioning Jews would want to affiliate with a queer synagogue; if you are in a part of the country that is not as accepting of who you are but you still want to explore your identity as a Jew, perhaps it is the only option you see as open to you. At the same time their existence frustrates me. As a queer woman I’ve always been bothered by the need for people to define me solely by my sexuality. I’ve been inactive in the queer community since graduating from college (where I was very active) because of this frustration. I don’t want to socialize with people just because they are queer; just because our identities as queer people are similar doesn’t mean we will all find community together. Do heterosexual meet other heterosexuals and say “hey, I’m heterosexual, you’re heterosexual, let’s be friends?” When put that way it sounds ridiculous. As a Jew I want to be surrounded by a diverse group of people in my community; at my temple there are queer people, heterosexuals, married couples, single people, young people, elderly people, middle-aged people, people with children, people without children, business professionals, artists, musicians, lawyers, doctors, on and on the list goes. I am just as welcome in my congregation as a heterosexual married couple is.

I attended the URJ Biennial this past December in San Diego. Each night they had an LGBT gathering around 11PM. I went one night only to find that we were tucked all the way down at the end of a hallway, as if to hide us away. This angered me so much that I didn’t go back any other night. One of the people in attendance said it was so that clergy would feel okay to come and not feel exposed if they were not out in their congregations. Again, I can understand that to an extent, but at the same time how do they expect attitudes to change if they aren’t willing to be open about who they are? If we continue to allow ourselves to be shunted aside, pushed down the hallway, or forced into separate congregations, nothing will ever change. We must integrate ourselves into our larger communities; we will grow just as much as they will grow. A congregation is about joining together as a community to worship God and to work to bring holiness into the world. How can we do that while segregating ourselves? I’m glad that many LGBT congregations are welcoming in heterosexuals, and I’m glad that these heterosexuals feel comfortable joining.

I understand that I come from a generation that has benefited from the struggles of those who came before me. You better believe that I am incredibly thankful and indebted to those who stood up for their rights and decided they weren’t going to be shunted aside in their faith and in society, that if society wasn’t going to welcome them in they would make their own spaces. I also know that I am of a generation who is at the point of being able to move past this, to truly be a part of society as an equal and I don’t want to be separated because of my sexuality, whether that is at temple, or in a social setting, or whatever.

I leave you with this quote from the article: “Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the URJ, said he expects that ultimately, most gay- and lesbian-focused congregations would disappear, because gay men and lesbians would be at ease in Reform congregations; however, he said that day wouldn’t come until discrimination in society has been largely eliminated.”

So, what do people think? Should we have LGBT synagogues? Are they still necessary?

Categories: GLBTReform

About the Author


Jenny (aka d’varim) is a dedicated and serious Reform Jew. Having converted over 4 years ago, she is active in many aspects of her local temple, from Hebrew school teacher, to Board member, to occasional Torah reader. Jenny is committed to the idea of personal autonomy and informed choice, with a lot of stress put on the “informed” part of that choice.

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6 Responses to “ LGBT Synagogues ”

  1. kate Mar 24th, 2008 at 2:56 pm
  2. I attend a queer shul in NYC.  One of the benefits I see is that this shul actively seeks to create ways to celebrate simchas in a queer context.  We actually create liturgy around commitment ceremonies and coming out.  We have special blessings for Pride, etc.  I don’t doubt that there are many non-queer congregations that would welcome and accept gay folk, but I do doubt that many are able to address the unique life cycle events of a queer person in the same way a queer shul does.
    Additionally, I think a huge benefit to a queer shul is the awareness of transgender issues.  Judaism is a heavily gendered religion; the gender binary is infused into most aspects of Jewish life.  Being an LGBT shul means confronting those gender roles and finding ways to include those who don’t identify as strictly male or female.  This can range from practical issues like making sure there are unisex bathrooms to creating liturgy for those transitioning.  In my shul we additionally require that anyone speaking from the bima avoid associating any gender pronouns with G-d.
    As an aside, I’ve found it very interesting to see the similarities between being an out gay person and being a Jew by choice.  Each of us has joined a community that we most likely were not a part of at birth, we’ve all lost people close to us because of it, and we all face potential danger and discrimination because we are now a part of these communities.  I know a common question in a convert’s beit din is “why would you want to openly affiliate yourself with a group that is hated by so many?”  Well, the answer for many of us it “because it is who I am.”  I think that’s true for many out gay folk as well, and just like the solace I find in reading about other JBCs experiences on this blog, I’m comforted by the communal experiences of other out gay Jews at my shul.
  3. Diana Mar 24th, 2008 at 5:00 pm
  4. Hmm…I’m a heterosexual member of a LGBT shul.  Here’s the lovely thing about my little shul:  They welcome everyone, even older, straight women and men.
    Seriously, the first time I went, I wondered if I could fit in.  Five minutes into the thing, I thought the large, posh shuls in my city should come and take notes about making people feel at home.
    Don’t you think that, in time, these shuls might evolve as, say, shuls full of German immigrants or Polish immigrants or Latino immigrants all evolved and just became the local shul in a certain geographic area?
  5. Jenny Mar 25th, 2008 at 4:09 am
  6. Kate and Diana,
  7. Like I said in my post I don’t deny that people get a lot out of attending these synagogues. One of the points I was trying to get at (though probably not very clearly) is, as Diana puts it in the end of her comment, that “these shuls might evolve” and just become a local synagogue. In addition, if queer Jews don’t join “mainstream” synagogues and force the issue of queer lifecycle events, of gender roles, of language, and do it only in LGBT synagogues, it is going to take a lot longer for things to change.
  8. Avi aka TG Mar 25th, 2008 at 7:38 am
  9. Such synagogues obviously serve a real and important function for many GLBT Jews, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. I live in a town (LA) with at least two such synagogues and I have heard LGBT Jews weigh in on both sides of this issue. For some these synagogues/communities clearly are seen as important an valuable. However, we have several (openly) gay friends who identify as orthodox, who don’t care for such shul’s at all. They for whatever reason would much rather attend their various orthodox shul’s than step inside a GLBT one. So GLBT shuls obviously are not for everyone. Not even everyone within the LGBT community and that might be a good thing!
  10. Tamara Mar 26th, 2008 at 8:09 am
  11. I believe that these shuls are necessary for those who NEED them.  I use the word need carefully because I believe there are people who are just becoming comfortable with their sexuality, or coming “out” with their sexuality in regards to their Judaism.  If being in a GLBT community helps them connect to G-d and spirituality, then I think that’s beautiful.  However, if being in this community is to purposefully isolate oneself from non-gays (that sounds funny but so be it) then I don’t think that is helping in building and supporting Klal Israel.This shul is not a GLBT shul, but it’s open and allows for the straight and homosexual communitites to come together as on. For me, this is most important.  They have GLBT specific events and such, but everyone is involved and members of the greater community rather than isolated.
  12. (yay, I still have commenting skills…I know it’s been  a while)
  13. I know for a fact that there are many communities who are accepting of openly gay families.  Yes, Accepting, not just tolerant.  In San Diego there is a Reform congregation (traditional) who accepts gay couples as family units in regards to membership.  I discovered this shul when I was volunteering at a gay pride parade in San Diego.  I grew up with a gay brother (may his memory be a blessing) who died of AIDS almost 12 years ago.  At different points in my life I’ve found the need to honor his memory so that year, I volunteered. My job was to manage five groups walking in the parade.  One of the groups was Temple Emanuel, a San Diego reform congregation.  I was excited to see a shul taking part in this event so I went over and spoke to the president, a gay man.  He explained to me that he and his partner wanted to join and be acknowledged as a family at a shul, Temple Emanuel’s board met, discussed the issue, and made it policy that this was totally acceptable.
  14. David Mar 26th, 2008 at 10:02 pm
  15. I have been reading Jews by Choice for quite some time. Being a gay, Jew by choice, I found this post particularly relevant and interesting. Thanks for including it!Rabbi Yoffie condensed my feelings well, but I can’t emphasize his ending words enough, “that day wouldn’t come until discrimination in society has been largely eliminated”. I think we’ve made good advances(thanks to Reform Judaism and more recently the Conservative decision) , but we still have a long, long ways to go in most congregations. The fact that the LGBT gathering was intentionally discreet at the URJ Bienniel illustrates the sad and frustrating irony of the whole issue.
  16. So, until that messianic  time arrives, I say more power to the LGBT synagogues! It sounds like they are even providing successful examples and new ideas for traditional congregations looking to revive dwindling membership numbers and enthusiasm levels.
  17. I believe that LGBT synagogues are still very important and necessary for many of the reasons already mentioned in the comments.  I am gradually coming out to people in my Reform congregation, but I still do not feel “at ease” for a variety of reasons. I can’t imagine a transgender Jew feeling comfortable in my congregation or any congregation in this city.  Acceptance, not just tolerance, is an imperative goal for making the non-traditional individual or family feel at ease and part of the community.

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